Posted in Flotsam by lesterbmorrison on February 14, 2010

In a recent post on 5b4, Mr. Whiskets mentioned that my book is packaged with ‘floor sweepings.’ These are in fact perfectly safe agaric fungal fragments, (not dried troll-smor). If Mr. Whiskets has a Valentine sweetie like Alec Soth, I’d recommend she give him Mushrooms, Russia and History by Valentina Pavlovna and R. Gordon Wasson. The two volume set was printed in 1975 in an edition of 517 and now costs about $3000 (but I downloaded it for free here … you book collectors are stupid).

Chapter 5: Mucus, Mushrooms and Love is especially good Valentines Day reading:

We have seen on an earlier page that ‘spunk’ in English is a name for the seminal flow of the human male, that the ordinary mushroom stipe sunk in the pileus is the symbol of the sexual act, and that the Greek P.UXYJC; means not only ‘mushroom’ (or ‘morel’) but the membrum virile. Perhaps the same idea lies enfolded in the Indo-European root of the Russian smorchok. There is a Norwegian word, troll-smor, or the demon’s butter, for the yellowish slimemoulds that are often found spilling over rotten stumps and that scientists call ‘myxomycetes’. It is our suggestion that ‘butter’ in such fungal words scarce conceals the erotic meaning, corresponding to the erotic vulgarism frontage in the French langue verte, and the special meaning of ‘spunk’ in England. In low English ‘cheese’ is the designation for smegma…

We now call to the reader’s attention certain further semantic associations with fire that link together the two Greek words. The word for mushroom also meant the half-carbonized end of a wick, which in English is called the snuff- a word with nasal ties. This half charred end of a wick is of course tinder. The Greek word for mucus also meant the nozzle of a lamp. This same Greek word for mucus crops out in Latin as myxa, and in Latin it meant ‘wick’, and we discover that in Latin fungus was the snuff of a wick. The Latin word for ‘wick’ in turn gave to the French their meche, and from the French the English acquired ‘match’. Why should the match that we strike come down to us from Greek words for mucus and mushroom? Why this persistent association between fire on the one hand, and mucus and mushrooms on the other, with the membrum virile also playing a role in the same affair? In low English ‘wick’ is still potent with erotic meaning, as the English soldierlets us know when he ‘dips his wick’ or complains that someone ‘gets on his wick’. The cap of a morel suggests a burnt clump of tinder, and what is a nozzle but a ‘cock’? Both ‘nozzle’ and ‘schnozzle’ are variants of’nose’…

Here then is a persistent association of ideas, triangular in design, between mucus, mushrooms, and candles or lamps. Like the candle-wick itself, the ideas are plaited together, weaving in and out in a slow measure down the centuries. It is easy to see why the mycophobic Greeks regarded mushrooms as globs of mucus. But why the lamp nozzle? Why the burnt end of the wicke? Why the candle? Perhaps the reader has already discovered the common denominator that underlies these disparate ideas. Relying on certain straws of evidence, we have conjectured a deep-seated semantic association between nasal mucus and seminal fluid. The primary use of the fungi among the primitive Europeans was for the making of fire, a rite instinct with sexual associations. In the burning candle guttering with heat, in the dripping nozzle of the hot antique lamp, we discover the supreme figure of dynamic sexual metaphor, wherein the discordant ideas of mucus and fire are suddenly and boldly reconciled.

Happy Valentines Day,


4 Responses

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  1. bob black said, on February 14, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    You Rule Lester B! :)))))))))))))))


    my wife (herself russian) laughed/loved the Pavlovna/Wasson reference…

    alls wells that ends well 🙂


  2. bob black said, on February 17, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    Yo, Lester B:

    can u pass this message onto Alec…

    Alec: just saw you’ll be part of the MAGNUM WORKSHOP at this year’s CONTACT photofestival here in Toronto. that’s terrific…..

    I guess, time permitting, we’ll be able to get that long-awaited beer together… worries, im not a bad guy ;)))…ask Harvey and Chris (a), although i’ve been known to buy Chris shots after lectures ;)))…….had a great chat over beers last year with Mark Power (talked about russian women and photography (my wife is from russia)…

    anyway, i have a MAJOR bookstore that would be the perfect Soth visit…and it is within walking distance to the Drake (where y’all will be)

    here it is: (the bookstore):

    u will be major busy that 1st week with your students…and my wife’s exhibition opens that first week (her exhibition is one of this year’s featured CONTACT exhibitions)….

    anyway, would be a pleasure to show you the store….

    besides, i’d never let you live it down, after your LBM posts about walking to bookstores…this one is brilliant…their ephemera is wild :)))


  3. bob black said, on February 17, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    p.s. here is a book that was in their window the other week :))

    look here:

  4. LBM said, on February 21, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    Fantastic links Bob. Looking forward to our Monkey Paw journey…

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